Implications of ChatGPT for Human Capability Agenda

By Dave Ulrich | October 30, 2023

Key Takeaways: 

  • ChatGPT has the remarkable ability to compose essays on diverse topics and is a groundbreaking example of AI's impact. 
  • AI like ChatGPT can contribute to HR's future, but HR activities must follow an integrated human capability framework and focus on creating stakeholder value.
  • HR and business leaders must integrate new AI technologies with thought leadership to craft human capabilities (talent, leadership, organization, and HR) that deliver value to all stakeholders.

Almost all my friends and colleagues are awed by ChatGPT and its ability to compose essays about nearly any topic. ChatGPT is a leading example of how AI will change our world. Its advancement is like moving from Encyclopedia Britannica to Wikipedia, from long-hand math to calculators, and from maps to GPS guidance systems.

ChatGPT has great potential for preparing documents of all types. So I tested it with a simple question: What is the future of HR? Here is the 200-word answer, generated within seconds:

It is difficult to predict the exact future of HR with certainty, but it is likely that the role of HR will continue to evolve and become increasingly important as organizations place a greater emphasis on people and culture. Some potential developments that could shape the future of HR include:

  1. Greater use of technology: HR technology, such as applicant tracking systems and HR information systems, is expected to become more prevalent and sophisticated.
  2. Increased focus on diversity and inclusion: Companies are likely to place a greater emphasis on creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, and HR will play a key role in this effort.
  3. More strategic role: HR is expected to take on a more strategic role within organizations, working closely with business leaders to align HR practices with business objectives and drive organizational performance.
  4. Emphasis on employee experience: HR is likely to focus more on creating positive employee experiences, including through the use of employee engagement and satisfaction surveys and by implementing programs and initiatives that support employee well-being.
  5. Talent management: As the competition for top talent continues to heat up, HR will play a critical role in attracting, retaining, and developing top performers. 

Very impressive. Like a tailored Wikipedia and an advanced Google search, this essay offers an astute and able overview of the future HR agenda. Using ChatGPT could be useful for almost any written document provided by HR: policies, training manuals, communications, speeches, presentations, social media, letters to employees, and so forth. However, relying only on this technology has four limitations (at least).

1. Emphasizes the Past More Than the Future.

AI relies on existing information on the Internet. It sources and communicates that information in conversational language so that answers sound reliable and relevant. It can reconfigure words into patterns that synthesize what has been and is today. But it does not have the ability to create what can be tomorrow. If compared to a GPS map system, AI is like how a GPS can give you a route to get where you are going but is less able to help you define where you want to go.

2. Conveys a Standard More Than Guidance.

The insights from the essays of ChatGPT could quickly become an acceptable standard for how to think about an HR agenda. In organizations today, a baseline of HR benchmarks often becomes accepted as generally used and even can become best practices. However, success comes less from benchmarking and copying others and more from differentiating and being the thought leader or first mover in a field. ChatGPT can synthesize what others have done but cannot offer guidance about what your company should uniquely do.

3. Generates Generic More Than Specific Responses. 

AI–generated answers are often more generic than specific. The answers to the HR query above (technology, diversity, and inclusion [DI], strategic role, employee experience, talent management) are very helpful categories to explore HR’s future. However, the ultimate future of HR is likely in the specific insights. Insights provide theories that explain why things happen so that they can be replicated, research to test those ideas with both quantitative and qualitative data, and solutions that are tailored to a specific situation. The generic essays from AI may not offer specific insights related to a specific circumstance.

4. Provides Thought Synthesis More Than Thought Leadership.

Thought leadership creates the future more than builds on the past, discovers new opportunities rather than repackaging traditional actions, provides expertise based on research more than personal opinion, identifies and explores questions that do not have readily packaged answers, and continually learns by sharing and debating ideas. Organizations need thought leaders who don’t repackage what others have done but imagine what can be done. Relying on AI may encourage intellectual laziness where the machine “thinks” by recasting previous work rather than creating new ideas.

So while the potential for AI—in this case ChatGPT—is great (and will likely be used for college essays, internet searches, and baseline HR work), it may be useful but not sufficient for HR’s future advantage.

The HR future answer above by ChatGPT is a great baseline, but if I (or many others) were asked the question, “What is the future of HR?” I would add:

  1. HR’s future is not about HR but about creating value in the marketplace with key stakeholders. HR activities (like technology, DI, and employee experience) should be linked to the value they create for others.
  2. HR’s future requires an integrated framework to organize all the disparate HR practices and tools. We have seen the evolution of HR from personnel (administrative work); to HR practices (array of HR tools); to human capital (focus on employee experience); to human capability, which includes HR tools and talent (human capital); and then also adds leadership and organization to the framework. Within this human capability framework are specific initiatives for HR, all of which can be aligned to stakeholder value.
  3. HR’s future will require an ability to select which of the myriad of HR initiatives deliver value to a specific organization setting. We call this organization guidance system (OGS) and want to move beyond generic ideas to specific recommendations that deliver value (see Prioritizing HR investments can increasingly be done through rigorous AI/NLP research that links HR investments to stakeholder value through analytics that determine the right choices.
  4. HR’s future will lead to increased disclosure and dialogue with: investors to show them how human capability is material to their debt or equity investments and thus reduce their risk; customers to show them which human capabilities will ensure they have the right products and services; boards to help them deliver on financial and strategic goals; senior executives to help the crafting and delivery of strategic reinvention; employees to help them have a positive experience.
  5. HR’s future lies in the creative genius of individuals who observe challenges not yet discussed and explore unique solutions to those challenges.

Envisioning the potential of new AI technology like ChatGPT to improve our personal and professional lives is exciting. But, helping business and HR leaders integrate this technology with thought leadership so that they will craft human capabilities (talent, leadership, organization, and HR) that deliver value to all stakeholders is more exciting.

The best is yet ahead. As always, contact us with questions about how we can help evolve the human capability agenda in your organization. 

Dave has published over 30 books on leadership, organization, and human resources. These ideas have shaped how people and organizations deliver value to customers, investors, and communities. He has consulted and done research with over half of the Fortune 200 and worked in over 80 countries.  He has received numerous public recognitions and lifetime awards for his work. 

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